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Afghanistan collapse: GOP targets Blinken, Sullivan

WASHINGTON – Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee are calling for “multiple open hearings” about the botched US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan after President Biden declined to hold any senior official responsible for decisions that led to the mission’s chaos, according to a report issued by the panel’s ranking GOP lawmaker.

The Wednesday report by Rep. Michael McCaul recommends that the full committee request the testimony of “senior Biden administration officials who were responsible for the decision to unconditionally withdraw and for the evacuation,” including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

While the US evacuated nearly 130,000 Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul during the weekslong evacuation mission that ended Aug. 30, 2021, thousands more were left behind, according to the 115-page interim report. The operation also led to the deaths of 13 US service members and more than 160 Afghans when an ISIS-K suicide bomber attacked the evacuation site at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Taliban fighters escort women as they march in support of the Taliban government outside Kabul University.
Taliban fighters escort women as they march in support of the Taliban government outside Kabul University in 2021.
Bernat Armangue/AP

The hearings would be held in part to analyze what led to the Biden administration’s decision to pull out of Afghanistan without the Taliban having committed to certain conditions, such as promising it would not let the country again become an al Qaeda safe haven.

“Much more investigation is still needed to provide a full accounting of what caused this disaster,” McCaul (R-Texas) said in the report. “And as more information is revealed, more questions will certainly arise.”

Along with Sullivan and Blinken, the Republican committee members are asking that USAID Administrator Samantha Power and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman testify before the full committee, while 33 other officials sit for interviews.

“If the State Department refuses to provide these individuals, the Committee should subpoena them to compel compliance,” McCaul wrote in the report.

Biden gave several reasons for why he decided to remove the American military presence from Afghanistan in an announcement on April 14, 2021.

The report attempted to debunk several of Biden’s claims, including that the US presence in Afghanistan was no longer needed to degrade al Qaeda in the country; that the Afghan military was trained and equipped enough to keep the Taliban at bay without foreign assistance; and that the US could not keep its troops in the country without a “return to war with the Taliban.”

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrives at the press encounter after the 2022 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference on August 1.
Yuki Iwamura/AP

McCaul argued that Biden was wrong to say US troops were no longer needed in Afghanistan to prevent al Qaeda’s return, noting that then-Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Aug. 20, 2021 that the terrorist group remained in the country.

“While it is true al Qaeda suffered significant setbacks since the original US military intervention in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks, including the death of its founder Osama bin Laden, analysts agree the terror group still maintains a presence in Afghanistan,” the report said.

The report further pointed to the late July US drone strike that killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri at a Kabul home as proof that the terror group’s presence in Afghanistan “had grown even more robust in the wake of the withdrawal.”

“Senior al Qaeda members [are] advising Taliban leaders and maintaining a presence in Kabul, as demonstrated by the presence of al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al Zawahiri in a villa in downtown Kabul,” the report said.

McCaul also said the Afghan military was clearly not prepared enough to keep the Taliban from overthrowing the Western-backed Afghan government in just 11 days.

“[Then-US Central Command leader] Gen. [Frank] McKenzie testified in September 2021 he had told the Biden administration if the US reduced its military presence below 2,500 servicemembers, ‘we would probably witness a collapse of the Afghan government and the Afghan military,’” he wrote.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing on May 18.
Susan Walsh/AP

McCaul said McKenzie’s assessment also suggested that Biden was incorrect in claiming that the US would have had to deploy more troops to Afghanistan beyond the 2,500 there before the withdrawal to avoid a renewed war with the Taliban.

Republicans are expected to retake the House of Representatives following this November’s election and investigate a number of issues plaguing the White House — including the Afghanistan pullout and its aftermath.

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